HC, a 22-year-old woman who has long-term amnesia triggered by deprivation of oxygen at birth, has immense trouble recognize the faces of people she just met. However, this celebrity-magazine junkie has next to no problem recognizing one famous face - Paris Hilton.
The Daily Mail reports how recent testing on amnesiacs is shedding new light onto how their brains function. Testing done by Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute suggest “why individuals who have amnesia are often able to compensate for profound memory loss in social settings by seeking out familiar cues to help them.” For HC, Hilton is a familiar cue.
Testing utilized a control group students, and another group of amnesiacs including HC. More often than not, the control group was able to recognize faces of which they had only just seen a few seconds beforehand, while HC’s group struggled in comparison.
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However, fame proved to not be the determining factor. HC was unable to recognize the famous face of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, but was able to recognize starlet Paris Hilton, presumably due to HC’s interest in celebrity gossip magazines. This proved that it had more to due with familiarity for HC than fame.
Dr Fergus Craik, collaborator for the study and co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Memory said “Our findings add to the growing evidence that short-term memory is not intact in amnesia.”
“However, to my knowledge,” said Craik, “we are the first to directly test the hypothesis that short-term memory functions better if the information has some past familiarity to that person.”
HC is a recent college graduate and is said to function “relatively normally” despite her poor memory.
Below, watch a commentary on HC and the recent memory testing: